Gabon’s former Minister of Agriculture Raymond Ndong Sima was chosen by President Ali Bongo to be his Prime Minister on February 27, replacing Paul Biyoghe Mba. His nomination broke the political mould somewhat; like his predecessor, Ndong Sima is of the Fang ethnicity but from the north of Gabon – traditionally all prime ministers are from the Estuary province, where Libreville is located. The appointment was a clear sign that the President is reaching out to the regions.
New Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima talks to Gabon Magazine about the challenges ahead, press freedom and where he will be spending his summer holiday…
The new Prime Minister is an economist who held a number of top jobs in both the private and public sectors before his entry into government in 2009. His arrival will bring fresh energy to the administration as it pursues the multiple reforms of President Bongo’s Emerging Gabon vision.
In his opening address to parliament on April 12, Ndong Sima pledged to focus on the “essential points that weigh on our lives such as the road network, housing, water and electricity supplies, the availability of food and healthcare”. He promised to deliver 2,300 kilometres of tarmacked roads by 2016 and construct 1,000 homes by the end of 2012 in the Libreville suburb of Angondjé. This year, he said, Libreville’s power supply would be increased to 444 megawatts and improvements made to drinkingwater supplies.
Hospitals are also a work in progress, with the aim being to make 4,500 hospital beds available by 2016. The new PM also announced he would launch a national consultation initiative to hear the views of the Gabonese people and find ways to stamp out corruption within the administration.
What got you into politics?
Raymond Ndong Sima:
It’s destiny, circumstances… You get involved in something and, little by little, you get more caught up and you end up stepping into the world of politics.
You are known as a technocrat. Did this help you to obtain your post?
You can’t talk about criteria or conditions for becoming part of the government. The person who forms the government decides who is in it. He is not obliged to give reasons for his choices. It’s not a competition where I can say I came first and so I get to be Prime Minister. It’s a decision that is taken by the President.
As Prime Minister, you commit to pushing through the reforms the President would like. Do you have what you need to make these changes?
Being Prime Minister means that you can commit to putting in place the projects of an elected President who has a mandate for action. He will be the one to determine what is needed to get projects underway and make sure that we have everything we need to complete the tasks given to us. The President is the one with a mandate and who is accountable to the people.
What can help you to achieve your goals?
The trust of the President. That’s the main thing and I think it supersedes everything else.
There are some real challenges ahead for you in the realms of education, healthcare, housing, road building, the Gabon Special Economic Zone at Nkok… What are your priorities?
I think every sector has its own priorities. If you start to choose by saying the priority is building, well people cannot feed themselves with roads. If you say that the need to eat is a priority, people need educating and that cannot wait. You can say that education is important but healthcare is vital in everyday life, and so on… So there are key sectors and within each and every sector there are priorities. There is one overall objective and that is improving the wellbeing of the population, but even in that there are particular priorities in several domains. That’s the way it is – man is a complex animal. If you give too much attention to one thing, you end up neglecting another.
President Bongo wants to build an Emerging Gabon quickly. Many people think that you were chosen because you can respond to that need. What role will you give the media in helping create an Emerging Gabon?
I think I am soon going to start meeting with the media as it is important for everyone to understand what part they can play. The media is an essential communication tool and a key way of questioning and explaining the actions of society and businesses. We need to have a better understanding of the place of the media in society and what role it has. But though journalists occupy this central role, they must also be aware of their responsibilities as not all of the analysis and ‘facts’ published are correct. I have only been in power for a few weeks and already the broadcast and print media are impatient to see results, but to focus on this is getting away from the real problem. I think the media is essential in making public figures accountable and in highlighting their shortcomings, but I expect the media to do this with great professionalism and complete objectivity.
To develop tourism in Gabon, locals also have to go on holiday in the country and visit tourist sites.
Where will you be going on holiday this summer?
I have been working since 1983, and in 29 years I have never been abroad on holiday. I don’t think I’m going to start this year. That said, as we are talking about tourism, as much as we want people to
come here, we have to also go abroad. We mustn’t be insular. We have to understand that to encourage tourists to come here, we have to go to other countries and promote Gabon there. In going abroad you see how others do things. You have to spend a bit of time in their country to understand their ways. But as far as my holiday is concerned, I think I’ll be staying here to enjoy the Gabonese countryside.
Interview by Christian Ndounou-Delwami